Two years ago, the eponymous Unisonic album marked the first time that guitarist Kai Hansen and vocalist Michael Kiske had worked together since the former departed Helloween after that band’s landmark Keeper Of The Seven Keys, Part 2. That Unisonic debut offered promise – tracks like the eponymous opening number and “Star Rider” especially hinted at the greatness the reformation of Helloween’s classic tandem could achieve. But overall, Unisonic the record was uneven, some good tracks mired amongst poppy melodic modern rock that played to few of the band’s strengths.
Despite that all the attention seems forever focused on the Hansen-Kiske reunion, this second Unisonic disc is predominantly the work of bassist Dennis Ward. (Oddly, Ward is also of terribly named German rockers Pink Cream 69, whose original vocalist Andi Deris replaced Kiske in Helloween in 1994). Hansen was too busy readying the latest Gamma Ray disc, so Ward was left to write the bulk of the material that would become Light Of Dawn.
Be it either through the singular drive of one writer, or just through the band settling in, the result is the same – though not without stumbles, Light is a stronger, more focused affair, mostly avoiding the radio-rock pop tinges that tainted the debut. Sure, it’s melodic, soaring, and infectious; it has a few duds; and of course, it touches at times on power metal’s inherent goofiness – you’d expect no less, given the talents and histories of the men involved. But all in all, Light Of Dawn is more cohesive, more effective, and more… well, better.
After a stereotypical symphonic intro, “Your Time Has Come” kicks in, sounding very much like vintage Helloween. In the past, Kiske has been (ahem) vocal about his distaste for metal and the metal scene, though he eventually came back to it. Still, that aside, the man is simply one of the greatest power metal singers of all time, then and now. His voice hasn’t aged a day, in a quarter century, and he’s absolutely stellar on Light Of Dawn, the soaring siren atop Ward’s power-metal-slash-hard-rock songs. Tracks like first single “Exceptional” and “For The Kingdom,” itself the title track of an earlier EP, show the band sticking closer to Helloween’s power-melodic formula and the better for it, thankfully avoiding the more egregious pop-rock missteps of the debut. (The Japan-only bonus track “Dare” treads back into that territory, but it was wisely left off the album proper.)
As strong as certain tracks are, there are still some lesser ones, as you’d imagine – the bridge of “Not Gonna Take Anymore” succumbs to sing-along power metal silliness, though the whole song is not a total bomb. The same can’t be said for the ridiculous “Manhunter” and especially for the closing ballad, “You And I,” which is as bland as its title, by far the worst moment on hand, echoing the debut’s descent into parting-shot balladic crappery with “No One Ever Sees Me.” On the positive front, those tunes are separated by the ripping “Throne Of The Dawn,” which takes an almost computer-generated power-metal-by-numbers title into sheer riffing awesomeness.
Ultimately, despite the metal pedigrees involved, Unisonic feels as though it were designed to be a rock band, albeit one flirting with the less over-the-top side of power metal – regardless of intent, it ends up as some combination of Helloween and melodic hard rock. Light Of Dawn is a much better balance of the former against the latter, and thus, it’s a marked improvement over the debut, showing truly what promise lays in this line-up. Here’s hoping for a continued upswing and a further honing of the material, because given the rate of improvement, album #3 will truly be a monster…